House-of-Justice-One-Way-Glass: you can't see in, not to the upper floors,
where cell rows mean to prove
that here blind justice is half cured. For the sake of morale the inmates
are permitted to see out—
the liquor store & coffee bar, haircut salon which goes by the name
of Mondo. & thus the women
on the sidewalk lift their baby daughters up, allowing the men
to view them from their cells.
I have seen them on my morning run—hard-faced women with beer logo t-shirts,
stick-thin from the crystal
& the cigarettes, who on the concrete chalk missives to husbands, to boyfriends
caught raising weed, or tending
chicken shack meth labs. So LOVE YOU DADDY's framed by daf
& hyacinth bouquets,
now in the early stages of rot. Ah, the sightings of the world beyond
arise with suddenness & pain.
Rough winds shake our offerings, unpetalled to the whirlwind, whose ears
are indifferent to such pleas
as we may utter. Upon the death of Mother Ann Lee the Shakers were bereft,
crying for weeks,
lamentations unending, seeking in their tremor & mortifications to raise her up,
uncorrupted still. The planks
of the meetinghouse floor for days did tremble, circle dance unceasing
in its bow & jerk & whirl.
Upon the floor they fell to writhing & held forth for weeks in languages unknown,
communing with spirits
both good & ill, & built of cherrywood & burnished maple
the Spirit Cabinets,
contraptions half altar & half library carrel, in front of which believers
would entrance themselves,
awaiting orders from beyond. To many brethren Mother Lee did show herself,
to many others she did not.
& how, o spirits, shall I invoke you, who cannot count himself
among the chosen?
My writhings & keenings are interior & treated by
appropriate prescription drugs,
to whom my conversion is incomplete, for some days I devote myself
solely to my dead
& in my error I do seek them & do wail. From the wire mesh
I glimpse the chalkmarks,
a-flicker on a kind of slate. Here is the glyph of patchouli-smell,
graven on a scarf
or silken dress. & here the character for a chin nicked while shaving,
stubble edging a dime-sized birthmark,
too tender to give over to the razor. Hieroglyphic of a bedside table, lipstick
on a gin glass by her smokes.
My slate, my singing slate, my Spirit Cabinet, fragrant of rosin
& sawdust & glue,
clairvoyant to channel the many-tongued chorus. My dead, my alphabet,
my Mondo Morte,
my burning chalk which breaks the night, hear me & forgive me
in my thrall & error.
By David Wojahn
Recipient of the 2008 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize
Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press
from Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 by David Wojahn.
Copyright © 2006 by David Wojahn.